Maverick in the Cloud
Putting the necessary plumbing in place for handling paid apps should make life easier for ISVs looking to sell their wares to Ubuntu users in the future, but the updated Software Center impressed me with its knack for promoting applications in Ubuntu's existing open-source catalog. For instance, the package metadata that spells out dependencies for a piece of software often includes suggestions for other, optional packages that can extend or otherwise pair well with a particular application. The newest version lists these package add-on suggestions with check boxes for easy installation. Elsewhere in the Software Center, I liked the way the tool segregated graphical or otherwise easy-to-use applications from potentially confusing packages by adding a "show XX technical items" at the bottom of search results. For instance, a search on the term "FTP" turned up 14 applications, most of which were FTP clients, out of a total of 184 results, which included things like development libraries.The netbook-optimized edition of Ubuntu 10.10 sports an overhauled UI, called Unity, which makes better use of the limited screen space that's typically available on netbook hardware. I tested the new UI on an MSI Wind 100 and a Dell Mini 10, both of which come with 1024-by-600 pixel displays. Like the netbook UI that came with Ubuntu 10.04, applications that run under the new interface are "maximized" by default and, as a way of conserving vertical real estate, the application menu for the interface runs in a strip down the left side of the display. In Version 10.10, the menu panel is much narrower than that in 10.04, and consists mostly of application shortcuts instead of menu categories. Considering that netbooks tend to be saddled with miniature input devices, I appreciated every click the new UI managed to save me. The launcher does contain catch-all "applications" and "files and folders" menu shortcuts, but both items are laid out more cleverly than in the previous UI. In the applications menu, I could search for the app I was after, and the system returned results sorted into three buckets: frequently used matches, matches among installed software and matching applications that I could install through Ubuntu's software center. The Unity UI requires hardware-accelerated graphics to run-both of the netbooks I tested Maverick on fit the bill, and there's a list of all the netbook hardware requirements here. I also took note of the trimmed-down run mode for the Evolution e-mail client that the netbook edition turns to by default. The new mode, which can be used on the regular desktop version of Ubuntu by running Evolution with an "-express" argument, is thriftier with available screen space. I'd love to see more Ubuntu desktop applications add an express UI option. In particular, Firefox could stand to go on a diet. Slim as the Unity interface's launcher bar may be, it cuts enough into the 1024 pixels available on most netbooks to force horizontal scrolling on many Websites. Ubuntu One Canonical's Ubuntu One personal cloud service picked up a handful of updates at the Maverick launch-some of which involved improving the function of the service on Ubuntu systems, and some of which extended the service's functionality to new platforms. On the Ubuntu side, I found it simpler to configure a new machine with my Ubuntu One account-on Maverick, there's a new tool for creating a new account or for associating an existing account with a system. I also noted that notes synchronization from the distribution's Tomboy note-taking client performed more quickly on Ubuntu 10.10 than on the previous 10.04 release. As for extending to new platforms, Canonical has announced that it will soon be making available a file synchronization client for Windows systems, which should make life easier for users who switch back and forth between the two operating systems. Canonical has also announced a music streaming service that will enable subscribers to stream the MP3 files stored in the Ubuntu cloud to their Apple iOS or Android devices. The service, which I have yet to test, is available now for Android, while the iOS client is somewhere in Apple's approval queue.